According to the 2002 census, there are 150,000 carers in the country, with some caring for three or four people, but thousands more do not recognise themselves as carers.
More than 500 carers attending the 15th national carers’ conference in Tralee heard themselves described as unsung heroes and heroines whose work was not fully appreciated by society.
Caring for Carers Ireland director Brigid Barron, called for the nationwide establishment of nurse-led carers’ clinics, which would provide one-on-one service and information on various health, welfare and respite services.
“There are lots of supports out there that many people don’t know about. A large amount of people who are eligible to apply for the carer’s allowance, for example, don’t realise they’re entitled to it,” she said.
She also said there was a need to give practical help with tasks such as filling out application forms.
“People don’t always realise they’re carers. The defining question is: how would it be if you were not there to care for the other person?” Ms Barron said.
Carers’ clinics are already operating in Ennis and Limerick, while 83 carer groups are working for people across Ireland.
More than half the population will experience some caring responsibilities during their lifetime and carers are more likely to be women, though the gender gap is narrowing, according to an Equality Authority report on carers circulated at the conference.
Caring for a parent, or parent-in-law, is the most common, followed by caring for a spouse or partner and then caring for another relative.
The report also said the changing nature of Irish society had profound implications for both carers and caring, especially as more female carers were now in paid employment.
Medical Council president Dr John Hillery said carers were making a huge contribution to the lives of people. Their work was of “priceless value” but was not properly acknowledged.
“There doesn’t seem to be much appreciation for their work at the highest levels,” he said.
Caring for Carers Ireland president Judith Ironside, from Clare, said the organisation started with 80 people 15 years ago, at a time when people did not recognise the important role of carers.